You see? You clicked. I knew you would. And you did so because you were intrigued, which means I did my job, the job being not to inform you as much as to attract you.
Because I’m no longer a journalist you see. I’m a headline writer, a clickbait headline writer to be exact, whose goal is editorialize, to excite, and to tell the reader very little about what they’re about to see, so they actually feel guilty if they don’t click. Because we all know a click, especially out of guilt, is the click that’s most precious.
Clickbait is the new wave of journalism that’s sweeping the internet, making some news sources very rich, and headline writers like me, very lazy. The amount of time I spent crafting the headline for this article far outweighed any time I actually spent writing it.
A long time ago, headlines were a short synopsis of the article and that was it. Sure the hosting paper may have its angle within the article, but Jean-Francois Cope to resign in light of Bygmalion scandal remained on neutral ground; with the whys, the whats, and the wheres to come later.
Nowadays though, the headline often reads….
The speech Jean-Francois Cope gives today at his resignation will change the way you feel about French politics!
The clickbait headline is less about Cope than it is about you and the way you feel about politics. How could you not click?
My genius American confrere Randall Munroe, recently made fun of this new form of journalism by compiling a list of clickbait headlines from the past century.
Not everyone is anti-clickbait. There are those who think this genre of journalism isn’t that bad, that it generates revenue, which ultimately helps fund hard news, which, they claim, couldn’t survive without the clickbait traffic. Recently Steve Hind wrote an article in The Guardian called In Defense of Clickbait, where he cited news generator sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed, as business models that are booming, thanks in large part to the clickbait-esque headlines they’ve mastered. Headlines like Before you say Africa is getting better, listen to this one verb from an eight year old or JP Morgan Chase shows exactly how a company should not use twitter have made Upworthy the fastest growing news site ever. And, as Hind points out, Buzzfeed’s financial success has allowed it to pursue its long term plan of becoming a legitimate journalist organization, by hiring Mark Schoofs, a former Wall Street Journal veteran, to edit a team of 6 journalists.
What Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and the Huffingtonpost, are offering, and which Le Monde, Liberation and Figaro can’t is expectation. Whereas the classic newspapers can offer you a complex interweaving of repercussions, motives, and insight, clickbait can put you there at the Cope press conference, where there’s sure to be a dose of shame, a touch hypocrisy, and maybe even a live suicide. And if Le Monde, Liberation and Figaro dare try to do the same, they’ll quickly be labeled as unprofessional, because it’s assumed anybody with half a brain can do a clickbait headline. Recently even the site Mandatory created a headline creator, where you can make your own clickbait headlines in four clicks.
Some maintain clickbait has always existed. I09.com’s Analeee Newitz, points out that internet-esque headlines featuring scandalous titles, cats, or funny gags go as far back as the Joseph Pulitzer and William Randall Hearst days. One technique was to use a popular cartoon character called the Yellow Kid, who appeared in a comic strip in the New York World called Hogan's Alley. Yellow kid spoke a sort of street slang at the time and would appear with wacky sayings on his shirt, which would serve as the headline. Newitz claims Hearst eventually bought Hogan’s Alley for an exorbitant price, hoping Yellow Kid would drive readers to read the other more serious articles afterwards.
And it is true. If you look at Buzzfeed’s clickbait articles, there is often a more serious article underneath, one, which you can follow up with once you finish. The problem is people are no longer finishing clickbait articles or ANY articles for that matter. According to a new study, more than half of people no longer finish articles, and Nicolas Carr’s best selling book the Shallows speculates that the internet is slowly affecting the way we think, read and remember, and that are attention spans have shrunk so much, we can’t even finish a simple text such as this (are you still there?)
Perhaps this explains the success of popular twitter feed like @upworthyspoilers, which gives the spoiler of the clickbait article published moments before. For example if Upworthy’s headline reads The strangest celebrity couple swap of all time? Seconds later @upworthyspoilers, will post Unconfirmed report Orlando Bloom dating Selena Gomez. Perhaps this means the future won’t be clickbait headlines as much as spoilers of those clickbait headlines. Great.
Or perhaps the future is even darker than that, one where clickbait writers stop trying to be nice and seduce you and instead start being mean and tell you what to do. Just today I came across the following headline on The Huffingtonpost which read “You need to stop what you’re doing and look at these photos!“ All that was missing was a fucking! and an or else! which I assume will be the eventual progression in six months, at which point, I will change the title of this piece to…..
There’s something in this fucking article about clickbait journalism that you better fucking read or, I swear, I’ll come over and chop your head off!
Whether you click or not, is your choice. I probably would, you know, just in case ;)
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